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Visit the Former Home of Sicily’s Wolf-Taming Hermit

San Giovanni degli Eremiti's is an ideal example of the various cultural influences that built Sicily.

Palermo, Sicily, is a city known for its beauty and culture. Visitors can see the royal tombs inside the Palermo Cathedral or take in an opera at the Teatro Massimo. There is so much to experience, but one must visit the site is the San Giovanni degli Eremiti.

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The structure was once a mosque where the island’s Muslim worshippers would gather for prayer. Sicily came under Muslim control sometime in the 9th-century and was held for about 250 years, coming to an end in 1071. It was during this Muslim rule that the San Giovanni degli Eremiti was constructed. The mosque was built on the site on a Benedictine monastery founded in 581 A.D. by Pope Gregory the Great.     

Later, Sicily was taken over by the Normans and for many years the mosque sat abandoned. Eventually, the Norman King Roger II came to power and re-consecrated the site as a church. The building was handed over to the hermit monk Saint William of Montervergine. He was known as the founder of a Benedictine order called the Williamites. Additionally, this eccentric hermit was said to keep a wolf as a pet. The story goes William managed to tame the canine after he found it had killed one of his donkeys. 

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Currently, the residential section of the church is in ruins, but the cloister still remains. There is a small section of the structure that is all that remains of the former mosque. The rest of the church, though it looks similar to the mosque’s remains, dates back to the Norman rule. The Normans admired the beautiful style of the Arab culture and thus mimicked their architectural design. Outside, there is a flowering garden of orange and pear trees, along with a mixture of palms and rosemary bushes. 

For those travelers who are looking to soak up the outstanding architecture of the city, San Giovanni degli Eremiti is the place to go. 

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